As mentioned above, Idaho Power CEO Darrel Anderson spent the lunch hour with the City Club of Boise June 16 to give a bird’s-eye view of how his company is enjoying its Centennial Year, and he also shed some light on how Idaho’s largest utility is approaching some of the biggest and in many cases most exciting opportunities facing the U.S. electric utility sector. A snapshot of his comments on issues of interest to Idaho Energy Update readers:
- “You do have choices,” Anderson told his audience, acknowledging growing interest among customers for more varied electricity options, including having power customers generate on their own. “We have to be open to what our customers are wanting.”
- “From Idaho Power’s perspective, we do need to manage the impacts of carbon … from our facilities,” he said in addressing growing customer concerns about the climate-changing impacts from Idaho Power’s three-state coal plant fleet, which provides up to 40 percent and in some cases more or less of the company’s total electricity production.
- Noting that only 3 out of more than 200 audience members raised their hand in response to his asking how many drove to work or to the City Club meeting in an electric vehicle, he promised that Idaho Power is embarking on initiatives to expand the electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure in southern Idaho. Anderson said that because of Idaho Power’s 24,000-square-mile service area footprint, “We probably are in a good position to do that.” See below for more information about Anderson’s touting Idaho Power’s new incentive program to encourage business customers to install EV charging stations to allow employees to charge their vehicles at work.
- On the touchy issue of renewable energy and the perception among many that Idaho Power has been lukewarm in embracing solar power, Anderson said, “I think renewables are integral to any energy resource portfolio,” but quickly added that those who believe they can go 100 percent clean energy with resources like wind, solar, and hydropower, “You’re going to plan to be in the dark.” Anderson said Idaho Power remains dubious about the ability of carbon-free energy resources like wind and solar to meet big portions of its future power needs, particularly if the company cuts back on coal use.
- Many audience members asked Anderson about Idaho Power’s stands on solar power both at the customer (residential and business rooftop) level and also with community solar or larger, utility-scale solar farms. “I would actually like to go out and build new solar today,” Anderson said, noting that if Idaho Power invested in its own larger-scale solar generation it could also earn a return on that investment. However, he said, the company’s not likely to do so any time soon given that it continues to be long on energy – or have more regular power generation on average than it usually needs. “I do believe solar has a role,” he said, noting Idaho Power is asking the Idaho Public Utilities Commission for a pilot “community solar” project to build a modest solar farm in which customers could participate as a way to help those who would otherwise not be suitable candidates for their own rooftop solar panels to still buy their own share of solar power. Still, Anderson reiterated Idaho Power’s long-standing claim, disputed by many in the pro-solar community, that utility customers who do not adopt their own solar power are subsidizing those who do go solar. That’s an issue that’s about to be discussed in great detail in workshops and other public venues with Idaho Power and the PUC later this summer and through the rest of the year.
- Asked what Idaho Power thinks its business will look like in the coming 10 to 20 years, Anderson acknowledged the traditional U.S. electric utility business model is changing quickly and that the old days of utilities simply selling kilowatts to customers are disappearing. “It’s going to be around an emphasis on the customer” and how utilities will still provide new services that customers demand. Looking forward, that can include everything from helping customers “behind the meter” generating their own power to interacting through digital and other means with customers by telling them when electricity use is more expensive or cheaper depending on the time of day.
Anderson offered another tidbit about the size of Idaho Power’s service territory: It’s about 24,000 square miles, or about the size of West Virginia. Were it a state, it would rank 41st in size. More company facts are here.
Find more information on how to listen to Mr. Anderson’s June 16 remarks to the City Club here. It generally takes several days for replays of past presentations to be available for download online, but they will also be re-aired on Boise State Public Radio at 7 p.m. MDT on Tuesday.